Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Neilson Family African Adventure! Finally.

This is the most overdue post ever, because I’m a lazy idiot.

The Family came to visit in August… that’s over 5 months ago.  Man, I suck.  Anyway, it was the best ten straight days in Malawi yet.  I loved having them here to see what I see and deal with every day.  I was just so proud to have them here!  Here’s the run-down of the trip:

We rented a car for the trip, because I could NOT see them traveling around Malawi in a matola.  Started off in the airport, which was so much fun to see them step out into Africa!  All jet lagged and disoriented on a continent they’ve never been to before (except Callie).  It was like I had a secret that I knew all about and I wasn’t telling.  It was so cool to have them enter my element. 

We started the tour heading up the lakeshore road for a two-night stay in Nkhata Bay (read “meat buffet”), where Mom and Dad stayed in a stone tree house, like they’ve always wanted.  We stopped at a croc farm on the way and also got a flat tire, so our driver gave us some quality time at the curio stands while he fixed it:

Croc Farm

Callie and I bartering...and winning

Mom, using her charm to get a good price

Dad won too!  Also, its a cool picture.

Then to my house, where I really got to show off!  They met Doug, and Kitty, and Couch, and the Pastor’s family.  They got a tour of the current Health Center and took a hike up to my school.  I got to cook for them and introduce them to the neighborhood kids and they finally realized just how fine I am here, living in Africa all on my own:
My family on my porch with my neighborhood kids!

Callie with the Pastor's wife, who is the penpal of one of Callie's
volleyball friends, Kellyn

My American family with my African dog
Two wee babes reading children's books my parents brought over:

 After that, we headed north to Lukwe for our favorite steaks, stopping at Vwaza National Park for a little safari excursion:

Elephants in the bush

Q: How can you tell the difference between a sleeping hippo and a dead hippo?
A:  You take its pulse!!!! But who is gonna take its pulse?!  If it's just sleeping, it will destroy you!

A BOMB picnic with REAL lunch meat and cheese.
And a few tsetse flies. 
On the way back down, we stopped at the bag ladies (Robert’s women’s group who make chitenje bags), where the Family finally got to try Malawian cuisine (you know how I feel about Malawian “cuisine”…)  SO much fun seeing them get nsima all over their hands and eat like Malawians!!!  Man, I WISH I’d gotten a picture, I am KICKING myself!

Dad, Robert and I went on a few dives at Kande (including a night dive, which I did NOT appreciate, as Rob and Dad got caught in fishing net and Rob’s flashlight was dying, and our guide was an idiot, and I was thus freaking out).  But they got to experience the lake first hand and attest to its awesomeness.  The final night we spent a truly Peace Corps-style night camping on the beach at Robert’s site, eating fresh fish and s’mores over a bonfire with a box of wine.  In hindsight, we should have done Robert’s house first.  He lives in a real-life Peace Corps site, with a mud hut and thatched roof.  So after spending ten days in relatively upscale spots and my house, which is essentially America, the Fam was kind of thrown for a loop.  My bad.  But I’m glad they got to experience how real PCVs live in Africa, and not just my pampered self (and for the record, his house really isn’t THAT bad. He’s got a pretty bomb site, when you look past the termite infestation, mouse poop, spiders, small house made of mud, and unmotivated village…) 

It was a whirlwind trip around Northern Malawi, we didn’t stay anywhere longer than 2 nights.  We were all pretty beat.  Back at the airport, no eye was dry.  Even Robert’s!  So they were all either really sleep deprived, or they really like me.  Go me!  It was a pretty rough goodbye, if I’m being honest, since we all knew it’d be another 10 months before we were together again.  But it was SO wonderful having them here!

So later, after they’d gone and I didn’t stop crying, Robert bought me ice cream, because ice cream fixes everything.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Kitty is having Kittens!!!

Pregnant Kitty napping with me on Couch in the
weirdest position possible.  Also, she's HUGE!

Kitty is super duper pregnant.  It’s hilarious and adorable.  She’s so fat!  She knocks things over a lot more than usual because she’s like twice the size as she used to be.  She sleeps even more but she can never get comfortable.  So cute watching her squirm!  I know she’s probably miserable, but I just can’t get enough of it!  She’s got this voracious appetite now, she’ll eat through any amount of plastic to get to meat.  And she’s like a magnet for cuddling.  She followed me all the way to the Health Center the other day and waited for me to sit down so she could curl up on my lap.  Adorable.  I’ve made a little kitten nest out of a care package box.  It has a little sign and everything, “C-A-T Nursery”.  Rob and I are calling it “The Birthing Box” for now though, so we don’t jinx it.  God, I’m gonna love these babies.  Should be due at the end of the month!  Rob thinks it’ll be a liter of two, I’m thinking three.  Anyone wanna put money down on this?!   

Pregnant Kitty has commandeered Doug's bed for her own
pregnant kitty use.  Sorry Doug.  You can kind of
see her little pregnant kitty baby bump.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Health Center Building Project Update

Gah, I’m so tired of talking about the health center.  I just want it to work out already!!  But things ARE progressing.

The MP has promised to fund the project, but he hasn’t gotten back to me about how much, when, and from where he will get us the money.  I’m expecting about 6 million kwacha from him, which will be perfect, as long as he actually comes through.

Peace Corps is giving us another $1000+ to adjust for the inflation that’s occurred since we originally submitted the grant.  So that’ll help.

We went on our first buying-spree.  Spent $1000 of the SPA grant from PC to buy the cement and tools and stuff for the foundation.  The foundation is almost completely dug and should be cemented in next week!!!  So things are definitely going!
Our first delivery! That's Mr. Phiri in the front, the Senior Health
Surveillance Assistant and project manager, taking to the Nurse and the
Medical Assistant.  Doug is helping too...
100 bags of cement!

I’ve decided against extending my service.  If I extended it could potentially jeopardize Chikwina receiving a new PCV from this new group, which wouldn’t be fair, and could set us back quite a bit.  So instead, I’ve worked out a deal with the office that we’ll identify my replacement early so I can work with him/her throughout training on passing off this massive project.  I’ve even gone a step further to post essentially a Want Ad on the facebook group for the new health group coming in to identify my own suitable replacement.  Ya know, can’t really trust the office all the time.  I unwisely have really high hopes for the next few months!
Slashing the site of grass

Marking out the boundaries. Check out that view!

The contractor and his team

Starting to dig the foundation... bye bye mango tree.
It's for the greater good.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Pad Project

The Pad Project

Whoa!!! Can’t believe how overdue I am in posting stuff! I seem to have taken a Christmas through February hiatus from blogging. My bad.

In December my friend Elizabeth came to visit my site to bring her pad project to Chikwina.  In Malawi, girls often miss a ton of school when they’re menstruating because they really don’t have an effective way to keep all that under control here.  It only contributes to the lower attendance and academic success of girls (let me remind you that last year in my Form 1 class, I had 25 girls.  My Form 4 class had 3).  Female sanitation is really not a huge topic in schools here, especially since most teachers are men and the topic is taboo anyway.  So Elizabeth taking the initiative on coming up with a solution to this problem, traveling around Malawi and educating women was absolutely amazing.  It was hands-down the most successful 2 days I’ve ever seen here.  Elizabeth, a nurse, was unbelievable with the girls and women who came to her sessions!  Huge hit!

We started our first session with a group of 15ish women at the health center for their prenatal care.  Elizabeth used props and culturally relevant analogies and huge gestures to get her information across, while urging the women to share what they have learned with their sisters and friends.  It was a very hands-on experience for the women.  They loved it.  Afterwards, some of them came to be trained on how to sew their own sanitary pads.

Women sewing pads on my front porch
Later in the day, my Secondary school girls came for their session.  It turned into a riot!  With shouting and laughing and openness.  Elizabeth really reached out to the girls and entertained them as they learned.  They had wonderful questions and they were not afraid to ask her.  On top of the feminine hygiene discussion, we got to discuss why it is important to stay in school and why it’s wrong for a male authority figure, like a teacher, to rape or coerce girls into sex… things no one tells them!  It was such a loud, wonderful time that we attracted a large group of primary school girls passing by on their way home.  Once the Secondary School girls filed out yelling about what they learned, the Primary School girls rushed in to fill the space, yelling and cheering themselves, for an unexpected third lecture.  It was so fun!  Throughout the afternoon we got the message to well over 100 young girls.  How freaking awesome!!

Elizabeth explaining about women's monthly visitor...

Elizabeth making women's monthly visitor a fun game!

Me in a sea of school girls!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Great Zambian Safari Adventure!

I apologize profusely for being so negligent with this blog and late in posting a lot of important things, which I know you are biting your nails in anticipation to read about.  Let's start with Rob and my vacation to Zambia for Christmas.  Let's just say, top ten best vacations ever.

We started out at Lusaka, where there are malls and 3D movie theaters.  We went nuts on the faux First World.  In real life I have about an hour a month where I can stand shopping for clothes.  I hate shopping.  Apparently, those one hours per month have accumulated while I've been here, so I went on a marathon shopping spree, got my hair cut, my back massaged, my toes pedicured.  We saw Life of Pi and The Hobit in 3D, no expense spared on popcorn, nachos, and movie candy.  We had sushi at every meal it was available.  Pretty much, awesome.

Moved onto Livingstonia, home of Victoria Falls.  Went whitewater rafting, where I almost drowned on the first rapid, pet cheetahs and lions, swam to the edge of the falls, went on a booze cruise, ate our weight in seafood for our Christmas Favorite Things Feast, ate our weight again in pastries at a super fancy hotel for High Tea.  Another huge win.
Ooooh!  Aaaaah!

Rob swam to the edge of the Falls! I chickened out!!

There was lots o rain.  And lots of mud in the water...
 Booze Cruise on Christmas Day:

Robert: "Stacey, its not a race"
Me: "Yes. It is."

Booze cruise sightings

And my most favoritest part!  The Cheetah Walk plus surprise lion encounter!:

White male lion loving on his girlfriend
And Rob's favorite, whitewater rafting on the Zambezi.  It is known as the best 1-day rafting trip in the world:
At the starting line.  Luckily, our new friend on the left over there is a doctor.
Just something to ease our minds for the coming turbulence.

The bridge overlooking the Zambezi, where our adventure begins

Me. Drowning.
Rob said after I fell out this first rapid (a Class 5) I was under
for almost 25 seconds, as the current pulled me down and water
continuously poured over my head as I struggled.  Not fun.

A nice man named Baby Face saved me in his kayak.
Here we go!

Controlled drowning...

We win!

Rounded it all off with a 2-day safari with 5 other PC Malawi friends:

The heavens are about to open up over our safari jeep.  But we won't quit.
Peace Corps Safari X -treme!

A hyena hiding in the bush... but we seeeeeeee you!!!

Monkey Bridge leading into the park.
Momma lion with buffalo blood on her chin.  Yum.

I liked the baby animals the best.

Wild dog hunt!  Apparently only 1% of visitors spot these guys.
Get it?! Spot!

Albino baby monkey on mommy monkey!

Elephant doing a funny dance!

Safari sunset!

Spotted a leopard on our night drive!  Hey, get it again?!? Spotted!?
Jealous? You should come with us next time!